Lynching in Bolivia

In many places in Bolivia, I saw life-size dolls dangling from lamp posts, power poles, walls and even next to the church. I was unable to figure out what they were supposed to represent.


When I asked about it, I always received evasive replies referring to “custom” or limited to explanations that explain absolutely nothing, like “that’s what people do around here”. At first, I thought my Spanish was too bad to understand, but over time it became obvious that nobody wanted to talk about it. Until I met a girl in La Paz who explained quite openly, while we were walking around El Alto, that the dolls serve as a warning: “In this part of town, we’ll hang you if we catch you stealing.”


And these are no empty threats. Take this woman and her two children for example. They were accused of stealing a car and tied to a mahogany tree that houses nests of the red fire ant. The woman died from ant bites. The children were rescued by police.


As a lawyer, I am rather skeptical towards these practices, for how is the mob supposed to evaluate evidence and mitigating circumstances? How to guarantee a fair trial? How to determine adequate punishment? I can also imagine that lynching disadvantages the poor, the less educated or the mentally ill even more than the state justice system. As we say in Bolivia:

Justice is like a snake. Its bite is harder on those who have to walk barefoot.

And sometimes, lynching may simply be the fastest way to get rid of a member of the community who is annoying or disliked.

According to the ombudsmann, there were 41 cases of lynching in 2014, of which 13 resulted in a death. But I doubt that the ombudsman learns of everything going on in the country.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Bolivia, Law, Photography, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Lynching in Bolivia

  1. I liked it, but that’s not the right word what the button means for a topic like this.

  2. Dante says:

    In cases like these, you just have to implement the biblical principle „one eye for one eye, one tooth for one eye“ to make a giant progress in humanity, judicial fairness and commensurability.

    • Although it would be hard to take a car from a car-less car thief.
      But you are right that the principle of proportionality seems to be lacking, among other principles of a fair trial.

  3. Horrible… do you know the crime rates in these areas?

  4. ensnaturae says:

    Thanks for this, Andreas. You seem to me..SO FAR… to be a very reliable source of alternative ..real…NEWS. UNFUNDED-by-govts-corporations-religions-ideologies etc, or weirdos or power freaks………etc……Looks a bit dangerous to me…was about to suggest a safety measure..of dressing up as a local elderly lady…(less often viewed as trouble, by authorities…)…but *Cross-dressing* might carry punishments worse than telegraph poles, and red ants, I suppose. Please take care ….

  5. AirGap Anonymity Collective says:

    Reblogged this on AirGap Anonymity Collective and commented:
    Some very strange and disturbing local customs and vigilantism in Bolivia – apparently there were 41 cases of lynching in 2014, of which 13 resulted in death writes Andreas Moser.

  6. Carlos Pacheco says:

    Barbarism at it best! Laws seems

    • There are lots of laws, but some people feel like the police/courts are not doing enough, which may be partially true, but which may also be true to lack of evidence or procedural issues..

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